Our current relationship with the environment possesses an inherent dichotomy. It could be argued that a core American value is the appreciation of Earth’s natural beauty as the United States is often listed as one of the world’s most naturally beautiful nations.
Patriotic anthems boast spacious skies above fruited plains from sea to shining sea, and the U.S. became the first country to establish national parks to preserve wondrous landscapes in 1872. However, alongside an ostensible pride in this imagery seems to lie a concerning acceptance of its destruction. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, the U.S. is responsible for nearly a third of both the world’s energy consumption and carbon emissions — a disheartening disproportionality considering that U.S. citizens make up only 5% of the world’s population.
Earth Month might be an example of this duplicity. Only observed by 20 million people upon its creation, Earth Day began in 1970 by former Wisconsin Senator Gaylor Nelson. Being influenced by youth protests and the publication of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” Earth Day expanded over the subsequent decades through technological mobilization and expanding legislation — many of which were spearheaded by Nelson himself.
Today, more than 1 billion people across the globe celebrate Earth Day as a “day of action to change human behavior and create global, national, and local policy changes,” according to the holiday organization’s official mission statement.
The U.S. has spearheaded the largest secular observance on the planet and dedicated it to preserving its resources. However, these efforts still seem to exist in an unproductive cycle. The average American emits about 16 tons of carbon. Compared to the emissions of other large countries such as China’s seven and the United Kingdom’s six, our celebration of Earth Day seems nothing more than a facade.